SAGE 2021 Hands-On with Pico Sonic

I remember the days of bootleg NES cartridges with ROM hacks that would bring Sonic to the NES with usually poor results. Titles like “Sonic 6” would take an existing Mario or other platform game and drop a Sonic sprite into it and maybe change a few enemies. They were always a pale imitation of the Genesis classics. Pico-Sonic goes below even NES limitations and still manages to feel authentic to the Genesis Sonic era.

“Pico Sonic” by Komehara is everything a demake should be. It lowers the pixel count, coloring, and sound bites to an underpowered 8-bit engine, but still keeps the core of the 16-bit original intact. It’s a one-level demo of Angel Island Act-1 done on the Pico-8, a fictional mid-80s game console with specs that fall between an NES and an Atari 7800.

Even with those limitations, Komehara pulls off an amazing little port. Sonic’s animations are all there along with his cool spring bounce pose from Sonic CD. The physics are intact as well, and Sonic’s roll, spindash, and overall sense of gravity are done perfectly. While this level is inspired by Angel Island, there are some limitations that slightly hinder the experience. The rocks don’t break apart when you hit them and there are no real enemies to be found. Instead, your main goal is to find all seven chaos emeralds scattered throughout the level. This gives you a major incentive to explore. If you don’t get all of the emeralds before finishing the level, it asks you to try again, basically giving you the bad ending.

While I would have liked to have seen some enemies in the level, Pico Sonic is a surprisingly charming fan game that shows that Sonic can still work as a game even on very low-powered hardware (or in this case, emulated low-powered hardware.) I’m hoping to see Pico Sonic return to SAGE next year with some more updates.

SAGE 2021: Hands-on With Sonic the Hedgehog Classic 2, a Fan Game a Decade in the Making

It’s always awesome to see a long-time Sonic fan project reach its conclusion, and this year’s SAGE has brought us the completed release of a great one: Hez’s Sonic the Hedgehog Classic 2. Having been in development for more then a decade, Classic 2’s road to completion has been a long one. As a Sonic fan hungry for more classic content, it’s come at just the right time for me.

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SAGE 2021: Sonic Riders X Hands-On

It always fascinate me which aspects of Sonic’s game library engender nostalgia in fans. I got to say: I did not expect the Sonic Riders series to be one! This year’s SAGE plays host to not one, but two Sonic Riders projects, and I decided to take a look at one of them. I enjoyed the original and its weird, creative mechanics back in the day, though I didn’t love it (and I was never great at it). So while I’m familiar with it, I’m hardly an expert at its mechanics, so please keep that in mind!

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SAGE 2021: Emerald Ties is the Next Classic Sonic Experience You’ve Been Waiting For

There are two types of SAGE games I love: experimental fan games, and fan games that are so good they feel like professional products. When I go into a fan game, particularly an incomplete one, I never expect a polished or thoroughly well-designed experience. So any game that provides those things immediately gets my attention. Today’s game from ph33rtehgd and their team, Emerald Ties, definitely has my attention.

Emerald Ties simply has all the trappings of a great classic Sonic game. The level design is multi-tiered, providing a variety of paths to take through a stage. There are lots of fun platforming gimmicks and level set pieces, like a collapsing level, a badnik that needs to be destroyed and used as a platform, and tiny ice platforms that require precise, quick platforming to be navigated before they fall. The game constantly shifts between speedy bits and areas that require more platforming skill, providing a nice, consistent balance between the two. On the whole, it is exactly what it sets out to be: a really well designed set of classic Sonic levels.

The game features two bosses, Eggman and Fang. Eggman is an effective first level boss, but Fang is definitely a solid fight, and probably one of the best Sonic character boss battles I’ve played, period. The character is constantly shooting, teleporting, and littering the battlefield with landmines, and players have to be constantly on their toes to avoid everything.

Although Emerald Ties is not a Sonic game that seeks to reinvent the wheel, it does polish that wheel until it sparkles, and it tweaks it with some fun little additions. It adds a new “wind shield” which lets Sonic hover left or right for a few moments, which adds a neat little twist to platforming. It also combines both the insta-shield and the drop-dash by delaying the initiation of Sonic’s drop dash by a second. This is an interesting way to enable both moves, and it certainly didn’t interfere with my ability to use the drop dash.

The visuals and music are both top notch. The pixel art for the backgrounds is gorgeous (Fuming Foundry is a personal favorite), and the music from Polar Peak is still stuck in my head even as I write this. The game’s whole presentation is polished and feels professional, which makes its status as a fan game all the more impressive.

Given “Tails Doll,” do we call this “Bark Funko Pop?”

Obviously, Emerald Ties is still incomplete. It lacks cutscenes and the team still has more levels to make. In spite of that, I really only have one issue. The game is definitely a little too easy, with player errors far more likely to result in simply falling to a lower path or losing some rings than losing a life. I almost got through the entire demo without dying once, until Fang put an end to that streak. Still, I prefer “a little too easy” to making things far too difficult, and I’m hopeful that future levels will be a little more challenging.

In short: download this. Play it. Enjoy it. It’s a superb classic Sonic experience. I eagerly await the next demo.

SAGE 2021 Hands-On With Sonic Rush 3D

Sonic Rush has always been my favorite portable (non-Switch) Sonic game, so to hear there was a demo of it done in full 3D interested me greatly. After playing the demo, I will say it resembles Sonic Unleashed as much as it does Sonic Rush. It’s also a fun ride that needs a bit of work.

Project directors ChickenWingJohnny, EnderElectrics, and Temzy have done an impressive job taking Sonic Rush’s low-poly 3D graphics into a fully 3-D environment. It includes the same boost and trick system as the DS original, but with a modern touch taken from Sonic Unleashed levels like Windmill Isle and Jungle Joyride. The level environment in the game is a mix of those two levels and Water Palace from Sonic Rush. This felt appropriate, as the background of Water Palace has always reminded me of Apotos/Windmill Isle.


In fact, in the opening cutscene, it’s Apotos that Sonic tells Tails he’s dropping into as in this version, Water Palace and Apotos are connected! This cutscene also perfectly encapsulate what I love about this game’s visual style: it replicates the low poly models and low res textures of the DS original. I love it when newer games combine retro 3D visuals with modern HD resolutions. It helps give it a sharpness while still having a dated look. As you jump into the level, a nice mix of “Back to Back” by Hideki Naganuma and “Windmill Isle Act 1” by Tomoya Ohtani plays as you run down, hit your first bumper, and attack some badniks in mid-air.

This moment is where the first problem lies: Sonic Rush 3D has very poor homing attack implementation. When attacking badniks or pawn bots, Sonic’s targeting reticle has to be on-screen. If he hits an enemy and pops up into the air, the robot in front will often be just out of view, and when you tap “A” again, Sonic will pass right over the enemy if the timing is just slightly off. It’s partially due to Sonic’s wonky physics in this game. At times, he controls well, at other times, you can boost off a ramp and fly through the air, missing where you’re supposed to land. You can also easily run onto walls and pathways you’re not meant to go to. This could lead to some shortcuts for speedruns, but also lead to drops and deaths that are entirely not your fault.

Despite them standing right in front of you, you can easily miss them.

The same cannot be said for Sonic’s drifting controls, which are perfect. When playing Unleashed or Generations, I always felt Sonic’s drifting had him sliding too far. In this game, you have perfect control of the blue blur when drifting into corners. I was impressed with how well it worked. The boost works decently as well, resembling its visuals from the DS game.

However, moments where the boost is actually needed are few and far in between. You can go through most of the game at a fairly decent clip without boosting at all. There are a few exceptions, like a rush of water you have to outrun and a lower path near the end where you need to slide under then boost again to avoid drowning. There’s also a hallway of pawn bots you can plow through with it. If you want to add some flash to your playthrough, you can press the “Y” button repeatedly after being launched off a ramp or spring. This lets you do the same trick maneuvers as the DS original, and even ends the same way, with a flicky flourish animation. That’s a nice visual touch!

Easter Egg?

While it’s definitely rough around the edges in its current state, Sonic Rush 3D is pretty fun. I can’t wait to see Sonic Rush 3D come back next year with more updates, along with some fixes to its physics. It feels like an Unleased de-make as much as a Sonic Rush remake. I think “Sonic Rush Unleashed” might be a better name for this project. Now, they just need to add Blaze the Cat into the mix.

You can find the SAGE demo of Sonic Rush 3D on the official SAGE 2021 website.

SAGE 2021: Hands-On With Sonic Red Ridge

Fan games have been at the forefront of Sonic game design experimentation for a long time, and among the most interesting concepts fan have been pursuing is the idea of combining large, open levels with lots of paths with a momentum-based movement system. Games like Sonic Utopia and Sonic GT have made stellar use of the concept, and Tigersonalex’s Sonic Red Ridge has now joined their ranks as another excellent example of the idea, albeit with its own twists that make it feel quite different.

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SAGE 2021: Hands-On with Sonic Triple Trouble 16-bit

Yesterday we were given the exciting opportunity to reveal an exclusive first look at one of Sonic Triple Trouble 16-bit’s new levels, and now that we’ve gotten our hands on the demo for SAGE 2021 this year, we’re more hyped than ever! The sheer love put into this game is absolutely astonishing, and it’s evident in the attention to detail in this great fangame.

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EARLY LOOK: Sonic Triple Trouble 16-bit – SAGE 2021

Who all is excited for SAGE this year? We are! And what better way to kick off the weekend with some early details about one of the most anticipated fan-games on the floor! We have exclusive footage of the latest build of Sonic Triple Trouble 16-bit’s Sunset Park Zone, and it’s looking mighty fine! Check it out:

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Sonic Talk Podcast, Episode 76: The Year of Luigi of Sonic

This episode: Sonic on Series S, and Ian Flynn’s 15th Anniversary

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Save the Date! SAGE 2021 Starts August 21

This year’s Sonic Amateur Gaming Expo will be coming a bit earlier than it has in recent years: it’ll be running from August 21 to August 27. In addition to the start date, SAGE also revealed their new logo and tagline for the year, which you can check out in the tweet below:

SAGE is a long running Sonic fan game expo that celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. You can check out our coverage of last year’s SAGE here.